In one of our many inconsistencies, although we don't cook meat we do use chicken stock. It gives some vegetarian food – especially pumpkin soup – a depth of flavour that is difficult to achieve otherwise.
By chicken stock, I mean the real deal: unctuous, heavenly scented stock made from the bones of a genuine dead chook. If we picnic with friends, I beg the bones of the roast and make it; or if it's been a while between picnics, I buy a carcase from our local supermarket for the princely sum of $1.20 a kilo.
Chicken bones are usually thrown away, so I figure I may as well use this otherwise waste product. I like using things up! I also throw in any fennel tops I've saved from the top of a bulb, and those half eaten carrots and stalks of celery that sometimes come home in a kid's lunchbox. If there are some forgotten mushrooms floating around the bottom of the fridge, I put them in too; they give the stock a stronger, more woodsy flavour.
I'm not being particularly try-hard by making my own stock. For one thing, commercial stocks taste so harsh and salty; and many of them give me a thick tongue, sore throat and headache, so there's some little nasty in there that I don't tolerate very well.
But the real reason I make my own stock is that it's so delicious – and easy. This is how to do it: after dinner, put the kids to bed. Throw all the ingredients into a large pot, bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer. Go and watch Miss Marple, or perhaps Bones. When it's finished, come into the kitchen and strain the stock. Chuck the things in the dishwasher. Put the stock in the freezer. And that's pretty much it.
- 1 chicken carcase, raw or from a roast
Place everything into a large soup pot and cover with 1½ litres of cold water. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer. Skim off any gunk that floats to the surface.
Simmer for 1½ hours or so. Strain – I run it through a colander, then a sieve – then season to taste. For a clearer stock, run it through a coffee filter.
If I'm not using the stock immediately, I freeze it in single cup portions, easily defrosted for soup or risotto.
(Local: red and brown onions, garlic, celery, carrot, parsley, bay leaves. Unknown: chicken bones, fennel. Not local: peppercorns.)